Culpable homicide? Possible ve

Culpable homicide? Possible verdicts and sentencing options for Pistorius

Jail time, suspended sentence, correctional supervision or acquittal — what’s next in store for Pistorius after a sensational day in court?

Culpable homicide? Possible ve


The world held its breath as Judge Thokozile Masipa delivered the first part of her verdict in court today, surprising the majority of South Africans and leaving us on the cliff-hanger that Oscar Pistorius’ actions on 14 February 2013 resulting in Reeva Steenkamp’s death qualified from a legal viewpoint as ‘negligent’ acts.

After being cleared of the charge of Murder (including Premeditated Murder) Judge Masipa left a clue as to which way her argument may continue the next day by resting on that key piece of terminology, which is typically used in Culpable Homicide charges. She may therefore feasibly finish her verdict tomorrow by finding Pistorius guilty under the charge of Culpable Homicide. Alternatively she would have to clear him of any responsibility in the murder case altogether, leaving only minor charges relating to firearms misuse against him (which still, however, carry heavy prison sentences as possible sentencing options).

But it is quite unlikely that the judge would acquit Pistorius of the bigger crime while focusing on these finer points only, pointing yet again in the direction of Culpable Homicide. While some law experts have remarked that she might want to use his celebrity status to make an example of him and hand out the utmost sentence available to her discretion under this route, Masipa herself conceded that she will take Pistorius’ disability and celebrity into consideration throughout her verdict, possibly hinting at a degree of leniency.

So what outlook does this leave the blade runner with?


Masipa could hand out prison time of up to 15 years – the length of the sentence would be left to her sole discretion. However, the majority of contemporary verdicts of Culpable Homicide in South Africa have only ever received lesser prison sentences, such as four years’ imprisonment (Mapipa vs The State), five years’ imprisonment (Nikelo vs The State) or eight years’ imprisonment (The State vs Nesane). These sentences have largely been justified on account of mitigating circumstances in each one of the cases. With Judge Masipa already acknowledging a host of extenuating circumstances in the case of Oscar Pistorius, it would be difficult to justify giving him the maximum prison sentence of 15 years. The Pistorius defense team would also fight appeals on any front available if a harsh prison sentence was given.

Suspended Sentence 

Masipa could still find Pistorius heinously guilty on principle but not find it justifiable to send him to jail, forcing him to report to parole officers for years to come under a Suspended Sentence. Pistorius would have to spend years under strict parole controls, but by giving him a Suspended Sentence, Judge Masipa would basically leave Pistorius to show that he is indeed capable of walking on the right side of the law. With three firearms charges still hanging over him, doling out this sentence could qualify as Masipa’s way of telling Pistorius that he can never do so much as touch a gun again, leaving Pistorius to prove – by the benchmark of his future behaviour – that he had never held any ill intentions against Reeva Steenkamp and is indeed suffering utmost remorse. In other words, Masipa would have find Pistorius reformed of his potential of committing a crime like this again following the trauma of Steenkamp’s murder and its ensuing trial. With South Africa’s prisons being filled well beyond capacity she may have further grounds for keeping Pistorius at bay this particular way, sticking to her word of giving Pistorius’ special status extra consideration. Yet this is still an unlikely outcome, as it would send the signal that Judge Masipa did all but let him walk off scot-free.

Correctional Supervision

In the wake of the end of apartheid, alternative methods of punishment were introduced to the South African legal framework, which are all clustered under the umbrella term of Correctional Supervision. These options can even be taken into consideration in Murder trials under the discretion of the presiding judge. Under these guidelines, Judge Masipa could use her discretion to come up with a more creative solution in dealing with the case against Oscar Pistorius. Taking his hardships as a double amputee into consideration (as well as his fame), Masipa could hand out house arrest and/or a community service sentence with a few years of prison time potentially built in as part of the package deal. However, with its inbuilt tendency towards clemency a sentence under Correctional Supervision might tempt Pistorius’ lawyers to file all sorts of appeals in a bid to prove that the Judge would only have had so little evidence to convict Pistorius that she was forced to go easy on him this way.

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) says: “Supervision takes the form of direct monitoring of the offender’s movements and compliance with the sentence’s conditions, as well as regular support sessions with Department social workers. Conditions of the sentence may include a period of house arrest; the requirement that the person be home between specified hours of the day; that he or she attends a treatment programme; abstinence from alcohol or drugs; prohibition from leaving a magisterial district; or a certain number of hours of community service. Any or all of these conditions may be imposed.”